The most off the mark show of the year goes to…
When we at JAN Trust saw the advert for, My Week as a Muslim, our first thought was wait, there’s a show with a woman in brownface and fitted with prosthetics to become a Pakistani Muslim woman? OK, well this we have to see.
Katie Freeman is an NHS healthcare assistant who had previously served in the armed forces and continues to hold frighteningly close-minded views. She lives in Winsford, Cheshire, apparently one of the least ethnically-diverse towns in the UK. Katie holds Islamophobic views and previously supported banning the burqa. At the beginning of the hour long programme she says “You see them and you just think they’re gonna blow something up”.
The first problem with this programme, aside from Katie’s blatant prejudice and racism, is that according to Channel 4, in order to believe that Muslim women are ordinary people you need to play dress up, and pretend to be one. Freeman is ‘transformed’ into a Muslim woman: she is dressed in a hijab, given brown contact lenses, has her skin darkened, and is fitted with a prosthetic nose and teeth to complete the offensive image. It begs the question, why Channel 4 did not consider that some would find this offensive, and why the broadcaster believed that this approach would teach us more than speaking to the Muslim community itself.
During the programme, Katie meets a white woman who converted to Islam several years ago, which prompts us to ask again, not only why couldn’t the show simply ask Muslims about their experience but also why was it important for Katie to be a brown ‘Pakistani’ Muslim.
The programme aired only a couple of weeks after Dove’s racially insensitive advert for a body wash depicting a black woman taking off her brown shirt to reveal a white woman, suggesting that a clean body is a white body. Followed by Nivea’s, ‘Natural Fairness’ cream, which a woman applies to restore her skin to its natural fairness, after which a man compliments her beautiful skin furthering the idea that white, is beautiful.
Given the massive backlash to these two adverts it is shocking that Channel 4 would insensitively ‘BROWNFACE’ a woman in 2017. Whilst yellowface and blackface seem to have thankfully been phased out of popular culture, brownface continues to resurface, such as Gemma Arterton browning up for her role in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time back in 2010. The result is offensive in movies but even more imperceptive for a programme supposedly made to highlight discrimination and encourage dialogue at a time when racial tension and xenophobia in the UK are increasing.
We at JAN Trust, as a charity that empowers marginalised women, believe that My Week As a Muslim is a misguided attempt to show the Muslim experience. Viewers do not need to see a white woman have obscenities yelled at her outside her local pub to believe that Muslim women are subject to Islamophobia. Viewers do not need props, prosthetics and altered skin tone for ‘authenticity’ or to understand discrimination and viewers do not need more misguided cliché stereotypes being portrayed as enlightening.
Visit www.jantrust.org to see the work we do to combat Islamophobia.